Killing Custer: A Wind River Mystery
Margaret Coel's latest book in her Wind River series is, contrary to the title, a today story, not a historical novel. Lander, a small Wyoming town near the Wind River Arapaho Indian Reservation, prepares to begin the new rodeo season with a parade. Colonel William Edward Garrett, along with his troop of soldiers, has been invited as the prime attraction. Garrett's notoriety as a world-class impersonator of General George Armstrong Custer has drawn mixed reaction within the community, especially among the Indian population. Interest in the parade draws large crowds with little room between the observers. When the Arapaho riders circle Garrett's group, a loud blast erupts in the middle of the street. A single body lies motionless in the dirt; Garrett has been murdered.
Local law enforcement authorities immediately zero in on the Indian riders who had collectively encircled Garrett, effectively cutting him off and causing general pandemonium in the street. Detective Madden's focus is on Colin Morningside, who had dressed as Crazy Horse, the Oglala Chief who had led the attack on Custer at Little Bighorn. Madden contacts Father John O'Malley at the Wind River Reservation to intercede as an influence with the Indians there. Father John is aware that deep resentment may motivate these youths to commit violence --- retribution for Custer's attacks on their ancestors.
"KILLING CUSTER is an inventive title to a modern story that links a historical event with its perceived effects on today's people. The book is a quick and compelling read, with twists and plot turns of the best mysteries in the library."
Vicky Holden lives in Lander and practices law in the town, herself a transplant from a childhood at Wind River. She takes on a client when Garrett's widow hires her to locate funds she believes have been taken illegally by her husband's daughter. The wife, Dorothy, has played the part of Custer's wife, defending his innocence with intensity. She dresses the part, gliding easily between the real and make-believe woman. Holden has reservations about her sanity but has committed to the case.
To complicate the plot, Coel inserts two additional personalities: Angela Running Bear and Skip Burrows. Angela works for an attorney in his law office in Lander, transcribing all his files and saving them to computer discs. Skip has taken her under his wing and becomes her lover as well, assuring her that all is finished with his former girlfriend. Angela believes that Skip will take her away from her past life on the reservation, a life she abhors. When Angela hears of Garrett's death, she remembers that he and her boss had argued shortly before in Skip's office. Angela is attacked when she goes back; papers are scattered, her computer is missing, and a trail of blood drops appear on the windowsill where a screen is removed and tossed outside. Surely Skip must have been kidnapped, possibly killed. Blinded by her emotion and feelings for Skip, Angela becomes hysterical and tells the police about hearing Garrett and Skip argue.
Father John has long been a confidant to Holden and seeks her advice about defending the Indian boys who he feels are innocent of Garrett's murder. Holden is torn because of the prior commitment to Garrett and sees a potential client conflict. But she looks at the evidence accumulating that does not add up to their guilt. She and Father John join together to make a formidable investigative team.
Margaret Coel writes the Wind River series with a genuine understanding of problems faced by modern Indians dwelling on reservations in the American West. The desire to leave childhoods complicated by alcohol, poverty and hopelessness conflict with the ancient familial rites passed down from their forefathers. Father John acts as intercessor and confidant to the Arapaho parents who are desperate for justice for their children.
KILLING CUSTER is an inventive title to a modern story that links a historical event with its perceived effects on today's people. The book is a quick and compelling read, with twists and plot turns of the best mysteries in the library. Coel's fans will be pleased and entertained with her latest effort, which should add a great number of newcomers to her ever-growing fanbase.
Reviewed by Judy Gigstad on December 7, 2013